So that none of you are left out here is our homecoming information.
Jessica arrives today the 19th at FAT, 6pm. We are scheduled to speak in our ward, Shepherd Ward, on the 27th at 9am, all three of us!!! Come early sitting is limited, Peach and Nees building, NE corner. Afterwards you are invited over for some socializing and snacks plus. Hope you can make it.
It seems, just a moment in time, our mission ending. A moment filled with emotions of a lifetime. We laughed, we cried, we suffered, we rejoiced, and then it was all over….. ? What did we loose or give up to have this experience? What did we gain? I’m not sure the answers are definitive in a set time frame. I think it is an ongoing story, that at times will seem to conclude but then begin a new. Certainly we will look at things differently now and hopefully it will be through the lenses of wiser and more appreciative couple. In one of my first blogs entitled, “The Last shall be First”, it now reverses again, as we go to our last Sunday meeting, take our last look of our beloved city, “Fier”, get my last haircut, take my last walk to the church, eat my last “suflaque hapur”, drop my last coin into a Roma beggars hands, feed our last group of missionaries……..etc. In that blog, all the “firsts” that occurred as we arrived here in Albania, which are now our “lasts”, is different. We won’t be going back to “firsts” in America, as we have experienced those all before, but they will be different………I think.
I have lived most all my life in the suburbs and to have lived the last 18mos. in the city, has been for the most part quite a unique experience. Sights, sounds, smells, congestion, and people, always people everywhere. I wouldn’t want to live in this environment forever, but knowing it was temporary, has made it very enjoyable. By nature I’m a very observant individual, so for me all the goings on has thrilled my senses. I love stopping with all the other old men, standing around watching the construction crews work on the major renovation project of the city. I love all the hundreds of shops, and veggie stands dotting every corner and in between. City life has agreed with me.
Today, Sunday, I was released and a new Albanian Branch President was sustained. I don’t think there was a dry eye in the chapel, especial mine. We hugged, kissed, and cried together, then hugged some more. We knew we created this bond which was felt deep in our hearts. The Stake Presidency wished me a safe and good life, and thanked me for my service. Then it was real that in essence it was all over. At times I questioned our service, mostly through times of discouragement, but after today, I felt the Lord was pleased with our efforts, and isn’t that the most important result. I had asked the Lord to give me a sign or perhaps to let me know, for what purpose were we called here to Albania, for truly we were directed by him to come. I was hoping that I might know when I had done something or met someone that I was sent to know or do. Today, I can’t say that I received that answer. I believe it was just a culmination of many experiences, all rolled together to form one answer. Maybe there was that one reason why we or I was sent here, but only the Lord knows. When we arrived, eleven people were in church. The last few Sundays we have had 40 to 43 in attendance. We owe a lot to the other missionaries along our journey and couldn’t have done it without them. Adding extra chairs to our small chapel is quite rewarding. Now, I relinquish the “keys” to this building, chapel and experience. I stand as a witness the Lord truly lives.
In our farewell testimony to all the other missionaries of our zone, as all missionaries are required to do when departing, my wife gave her testimony and some departing advice of dealing with discouragement to these younger missionaries, I gave these thoughts, which is why it may never be an ending story. Most of this you will not understand, but I think you will get the gist of the feelings.
Fond Farewell Thoughts by Elder Lewis (given at mighty south zone conference)
The next time…..Somebody kisses me on the cheek…….I’ll just smile, and remember……..
The next time…..I see meatballs and sour cream together……I’ll just smile.
The next time……I see a turkey cross the road……or a dumpster diver on a tricycle……I’ll just smile.
The next time I run out of toilet paper or paper towels in a public restroom or for that matter anywhere….I’ll just smile
When I hear the names of Boston, Massachusetts or Philadelphia….or see trash all over the ground or trip over uneven sidewalk….I’ll just smile.
The next time…..I see a reflector on the end of a stick or hear a unusual whistle….I’ll just smile.
If I ever see a bicycle on the highway, or a horse, or donkey, or a motorbike going the opposite direction or if a black Mercedes passes me like I’m standing still……I’ll just smile.
The next time……..I see French fries with mustard, ketchup and mayo on them and someone says that’s a gyro, I’ll say, “no, that’s a suflaque”.
The next time…….a skinny homeless dog goes by, I’ll instinctively look for the tag on its ear, I won’t smile but I bet I won’t see more than one.
If I ever see an older man wearing a three piece suit walk by holding a piece of cardboard in his hands, I’ll smile and say to myself, “I know where he’s going” and then with respect I’ll say, “Xhaxhi”.
If I ever see a person pulling a two wheel metal shopping cart behind them…..the question is, will I smile thinking of an old lady dressed in black or mumble to myself, “J- dub”.
The next time…..A person cuts in front of me in line or in traffic or The phone cuts off while I’m calling someone, will I get angry or ……just smile.
The next time…….Someone approaches me on the street, trying to sale me something or tell me something, I’ll give them all the respect they deserve.
The next time…….. we go on a mission, it will have to be a place we are more familiar with or heard of before ,…. but if not,…….. we’ll…..just smile.
Our fondest memories are the times we’ve spent with missionaries we have worked with. Remember that as you serve with these senior missionaries. That someday you might be their best memories. Have patience.Love Elder Lewis
May we encourage all of you senior missionary possibilities, to come and serve. The church is in desperate need of senior missionaries, part time or full time, at home or abroad. “Therefore, if ye have desires………, ye are called to the work. For the field is white already to harvest……he that thrusteth in his sickle with his might……bringeth salvation to his soul”. D&C 4
In parting, I must say that I don’t think I ever really understood the vital role of “leadership” and how it plays out in the lives of the members of the church. As I served, it became apparent that “leadership” is so intertwined with the membership, maybe more so in the position of Stake Presidents, as I witness and now feel, how, as they hold the keys of the priesthood, their faithfulness, their devotion and time, and their ascending and descending connection to and from the Prophet, as well as those who share that responsibility and load with them, is so needed. This vital mantle of “leadership”, from President Mema here to President Witt back home, I give thanks.
Now on the lighter side, the answer to the contest of last months blog is……..I am in my car which is in an elevator, descending or ascending, as I experienced my first ever parking car elevator in the big city. I even left a ticket fee on the dashboard, that you might better understand what was going on.
On an even lighter side, I close with some of my more humorist photos and their captions that I have enjoyed in Albania.
The Ocean: Longing…………… Styling……………….. Cheating!
You think Elder Thomas has a “shoe fetish”?
What driving in the car does to her,……………… what scripture reading does to me.
This is the second to last blog with a final, finale to say goodbye in a few weeks. I will start by answering the last quiz I gave you. There really wasn’t a confirmed hard answer to that one, other to say that the operator of the carnival ride said something to the fact, that it was a “representation of everyone”, gender, country and success. Go figure. Still a little unsettling to my taste….. the polished nails, with forearms that any arm wrestler would be proud of, lol.
Ok, this is your final test, and for some quite easy, for others, as was my first experience with this, so it might stretch your cognitive powers a wee bit. Where am I and what am I experiencing? Whom ever answers this one the best, I will be sure to bring an official Albania souvenir for them. Incentivizing, no less,……right? You can respond to me privately, so no one sees your answer. firstname.lastname@example.org
“Food”, as from the musical Oliver is more apropos in a sensory way, as they had thoughts and desires of food but weren’t available to them. It was more like dreaming. In some ways my wife and I dream about the foods we crave and it seems they are all around us, but just not accessible. Should you have a hankering for some good old spaghetti and meatballs, or mexican food, or chinese or thai or armenian, or pizza, or a nice medium cooked steak, it seems like a very reasonable request and you can almost smell it just around the corner, but NOT!!! We have been in some very nice restaurants and as far as decor is concerned, would rival anything in America, especially the wood work and detail available here, as well as some of the vistas are breath taking. Most places however are quaint and just nice and we were always noticing the next restaurant around the corner, saying “That looks good, lets try that one or look at that one, now that’s what I’m talking about”. However no matter the beautiful decor or simple quaintness that it is, IT ALL TASTE THE SAME!!!. The meat, the chicken, the soups, the pizzas, where ever you go they cook it all the same, all the time, every time. Not once have they ever asked us how we want our meat cooked. It is mind boggling and very puzzling and maybe any cook who has tried to do something different gets thrown out or goes under with no business, I don’t know, but now we just laugh and know that whatever the menu might say…… the results are identical, no exceptions and no expectations.
Their fast food consist of only three items: pizza, suflaque (very similar to a gyro), and berek (which is like filo dough with either cheese or spinach), No taco bell, or mcdonalds or burger king. Not that we miss any of those anyway, but there is a KFC (2) since Albanians are big chicken eaters, in the capital, however the taste and product is not the same and I wouldn’t even try it.
Now I will admit, that in rare occasions there are some places that do step out and we here about them through the grapevine and certainly we have not tried them all. We do have our favorites TWO!! that we try to go to whenever we are in the capital, about 2 hours away. One is a chinese/thai restaurant (one of only two in the capital) that does come pretty close, to a red curry dish my wife gets back home and the other is our favorite, Serendiville. This is a mexican restaurant that is decked out to the hilt and even though they don’t serve tacos or rice or refried beans, their nachos and chicken quesadillas are quite good. However their ribeye served over mashed potatoes and veggies, with their sauce or gravy, is to die for. My mouth is watering even talking about it. We have never had such a delicious beef dish ever in our experience at Tahoe Joes or anywhere else.
Pictured below our favorite place of all- Serendiville! (mexican)
Then there are the pastry shops, much like this one pictured with various cakes displayed. Oddly much like the food in the restaurants tasting the same, all these cakes or pastries have the exact same inside cake, just the outside shows various colors but not flavor variety.
My Xmas message:
As we approach this holiday season we see the Lord’s blessings more apparently than usual. Personally I think it is because of the tremendous need all around us. Abundance for the most part, is hard to find and so humbly we give thanks for many of the other things that normally don’t grace our table, so to speak. May God enhance our seasonal love, that much more. To missionaries and to those that serve our countries and those who serve, everywhere……God bless.
Wendy’s Xmas message:
Thank you to those of you who have faithfully followed our Mission blog these past 17 months. I think that many of you will agree that my husband has been blessed with the gift of writing and has the unique ability to relate in words what he visualizes in the world in a very raw, humorous and detailed way. Raw, meaning, that there might have been a time or two that I encouraged him (well, made him) x out a word, pic or phrase. But of course, those are few and far between. Lol!! I appreciate his tremendous efforts in keeping you in touch with our lives here, as well as all of his love, help and support not only to me, but to our Branch members. Having the opportunity to serve a Mission, especially during the holiday season, has blessed us to to be able to focus more on the our Savior and the true meaning of Christmas. No running around last minute shopping for gifts that might be returned, no staying up late on Christmas eve wrapping last minute purchases and no fighting the traffic to get from place to place. The true meaning of Christmas is serving the loved, unloved, the poor and the downtrodden. We have witnessed that here time and time again and are so grateful to be able to help in any way possible as well as to feel needed. We truly love and miss all of you and feel grateful to have you as our dear family and friends. May the Lord’s blessings be with you during this beautiful Christmas season!!!
Since Greece and Cyprus are a part of our mission since June, as they eliminated the position of the Mission President for that area, our bi-annual senior couples seminar was held in Athens, Greece. We were so excited to hop on a plane and land in Athens, Greece and tour different parts of the country, especially where Paul preached, Acropolis, Mars Hill, Corinth. The huge difference than Albania – the shops, and shopping are litterly everywhere and tourist galore. You can always hear someone speaking english and the souvenirs selection is incredible. Just goes to show you how little people want to travel to Albania vs. Greece.
Our Halloween Party
Thanksgiving came early and with 16 Missionaries and one turkey it didn’t stand a chance, ha.
Well, we are in the last part of our mission. I call it my tithing – consecrated offering to the Lord. These last two months are in essence the last 10% of our time here in Albania. If there is any devotion or service we can render and do better, it is this last time slot. Stay focused on the task at hand and not dwell on home. We need to lay it all on the line and give all we have left with full strength. “Never, never, never give up”……(Winston Churchill).
It seemed like for the longest time the walls of our little city, figuratively speaking, were too much to overcome and baptisms, despite the best efforts of some of the best missionaries, were not going to happen. It had been almost a year since our last baptism Xhoni Selimaj. Then from a small village just outside our city, came Christian Hoxha who showed us his determination and quite smoking in ONE day. Huge cracks appeared in the great wall. Then came Anxhela Kola, with her courageous determination to stand alone, bricks were tumbling down. Then came Lida Hoxha who resisted the call to join the church at first, but after reading the Book of Mormon 3 times entered the waters of baptism and left the wall in shambles.
Our little branch was growing and the feeling was rewarding. To see the next Sunday, Lida bare her testimony, Anxhela to give the invocation (opening prayer), Xhoni to give a talk and Christian to pass the Sacrament, was a humbling experience to see the hand of the Lord in this part of His vineyard.
As a missionary, it is amazing how the gospel can change the lives of individuals who begin with that small seed of faith and repentance and then watch it grow as they begin to sacrifice by making changes in their past habits. Watching them learn, read the scriptures daily, give up smoking, give up coffee, give up old life styles, and come to church on Sundays, sets an example even for us. The Lord sees their efforts and rewards them accordingly. 13 For how knoweth a man the master whom he has not served, and who is a stranger unto him, and is far from the thoughts and intents of his heart?
Some say 450,000 others say up to 750,000, needless to say, they are ubiquitous and they’re not going anywhere fast. BUNKERS, BUNKERS, BUNKERS and more BUNKERS…., made of concrete steel and rebar, built mostly from 1960 to 1980. More were built for 2 to 3 individuals, some were built for 7 people, and then there were large ones, built for 200 plus individuals (which we visited, pictures enclosed), mostly for the government and leadership of Albania. This was the paranoid communist dictator’s idea for war and the survival of his people. Stagnate civilian targets or “tombs:”, as I call them. Building them, crippled the already failing economy, which needed food, housing and infrastructure more than anything else. Enver Hoxha, Stalinist, communist dictator from 1944 to 1985, has got to be remembered for the worst ideas ever. Not only was he crippling the country but was set on a course to create the first only Atheist Country in the world, which he proudly proclaimed he accomplished. Before his reign of tyranny, the country was 70% religious. Can you Imagine the deaths, tortures and imprisonment that took place, in a country of 2 million people to achieve this goal? After his death in 1985 Communism lasted but a few short years and was ousted in 1991. It is hard to believe that most of this was happening while I was of age serving my mission. UNBELIEVABLE !
And then, came our visitors from Mars, well they might as well have been from Mars, as no one else has visited us since our arrival in Albania, it’s not exactly around the corner. So who would? Who else, but the world-famous travelers, Bryant and Karen Jolley. My wife and I, who are homebodies generally, got the see the famous travelers in action and the kind of things they do when traveling. Never a dull moment, their visit was a delight. We ate ice-cream (Bryant), visited the bunkers, called Bunk’Art, had some ice-cream (Bryant), rode the gondola up the mountain, had lunch and some ice-cream (Bryant), toured our little town, had some ice-cream (Bryant), and who would have known that Albania had their own Elderberry’s house. We sat down for a 3 hour, 7 course dinner, and we’re hungry afterwards, no ice-cream unfortunately. If you know Bryant, you’ll understand his unique philosophizing, when he says, “I can tell the economy or pricing structure of any country, by its pricing of ice-cream and Coke”, lol. They no sooner got here and they were gone…….leaving us with two large bags of Pistachios and great memories. Long live Bryant and Karen!!!
Since I know you guys obviously like contest, I’m enclosing this last picture in hopes that you don’t have nightmares about it. Tell me what it is or represents and what is it being used for?
Ok, as promised, the answer to our cardboard quiz. They use cardboard sometimes to act like a buffer from sitting on cold moist tile or cement benches (no frozen buns!). HOWEVER, with that being said, it’s main use is found in all it’s glory as a cushion or game-board for “dominoes”. On any given day sometimes hundreds of older men gather in the park to display their skills in dominoes. No women whatsoever. This buffer or cushion, not only acts as a scorecard, with which they can write on, but with occasionally arguing and vocal outburst, the winner, emphatically SLAPS, his victory domino onto the cardboard and declares himself supreme !!! The last piece played.
Our Home Street – From our apartment balcony, if you listened carefully, off in the distance, you can hear the sound of an ambulance, though faint, but knowingly, it will get progressively louder and louder, until it rings in our ears. If you remember, we live next door from the only hospitals in the city. The 4 different types of sirens always end on our street, as well as the occasional emergency car who is acting like a ambulance (perfectly acceptable here), honking their horn all the way to the entrance, usually with some kind of family emergency.
We live on the 6th floor, the top floor of our particular apartment building. Some nights you could hear all the city sounds, as they echo off the different buildings surrounding us. The city lights add quite a beautiful site in the evenings and add a touch of romanticism. This small 300-yard street which we live on, offers quite a life of hustle and bustle. This little street is on a gradual slope ascending as it makes it’s way upwards past our apartment and to the the top where the two separate hospitals are located, general and maturity. The slope provides just enough cardio that we feel we are keeping the exercise requirements of missionaries. On our street are three small vegetable fruit stands, one displaying assorted toys hanging from strings, that brings character and life to the lives of many who walk up and down, on their way to one of the hospitals, and with whom we conveniently and frequently purchase our sometimes-daily supply of fruits and vegies. On our street is one restaurant, that proudly displays the fact that they have air-conditioning, one hotel (Hotel International), about 5 or 6 other apartment buildings, two funeral shops, an eye clinic (of which our own Steven Fogg had donated some eye examination equipment, of all places and which if you wear the missionary badge, eye examination is free), six dentists and twelve, yes twelve pharmacies, with their flashing lights of advertisement, lined up almost one after the other. Then there is the occasional street vendor spreading their wears of clothing, sun glasses, cellular phones, etc. on a blanket and the often present one to two gypsy, Roma beggars. From our apartment with an extended balcony you can hear 5x daily, chanting of the nearby muslin mosque, which competes with the loud orthodox bells, echoing from their tower and edifice just at the bottom of the street. Around 9pm at night we will occasionally run into an older man who lives near the top of the hill, on his way back home from selling his small assortment of of items, mounted on a aging wheel chair, whose wobbling wheels are now starting to lose their rubber. It is rather a hefty incline for such an elderly man. We can’t help to stop and help him push his cart up the incline until we feel he can better make it on his own.
The experiences that have molded our hearts to love this place are indeed memorable. When it all just boiled down to making such a simple decision, to just say “yes” to going on a mission, and then to realize it could have so easily gone the other direction, by just staying home, are decisions we are all faced with. In time, we will have the pleasure of looking back at this brief moment and not regret a single memory. Much was required, but much was gained. Listening and then obeying the inner spirit we call the Holy Ghost, a member of the Godhead, helps us realize that which the Lord has said, “My work and my glory is to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man (woman)”. Moses 1:39
This is our HOME. We love our little 300 yard street and all that it offers.
This little Cafe is located on the daily path to the church and we thoroughly enjoy it’s seasonal change of decor. Good memories and a lovely part of our Home here.
Enjoying our Anniversary –
Gifted Elders (Elder Schneider, Idaho and Elder Ward, Michigan) made us two little cakes, (amazing, one gluten free), girls in our english class announcing our anniversary on the chalk board and sporting the the anniversary gift (new boots). Very memorable …… and then some.
As it turns out, one of our english class students turns out to be one of the local TV and radio celebrities and wanted us to come on his show and present our message. So if you are so inclined to see us nervously in action on the local TV show here. Tune in.